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Living with Cancer Part 1 

Cancer is a word that strikes fear and rightfully so, it claims a lot of lives each year.But doctors say more people are now living longer with types of cancer that were once considered a death sentence.Not only are more people surviving cancer, doctors say they are living longer and can expect a better quality of life with it.They say the message is one of hope but it doesn’t come without challenges.Nearly two-thirds of adults diagnosed with cancer five years ago are still alive. The National Cancer Institute says it’s living proof that having cancer is no longer a death sentence.”A big part of it is we are certainly diagnosing cancers earlier and you can find them at a time when they are treatable.””I also think there’s been great advances in treatments. That has helped people live through cancers that were previously terminal.”Doctor Molly Collins is a surgeon at the Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth. Collins says a lot has changed since she started treating patients.”Cancer treatments were much more debilitating. Much less-you might survive your cancer but you really felt damaged and now it is much less that.We take as little tissue as possible and achieve the same or better results.””When I started here 17 years ago and I would do a breast operation on someone I would tell them you’ll be in the hospital for 5 to 7 days and now if they stay over night it’s unusual.””Even if you have a cancer that isn’t right now treatable there are a lot of things that can make your quality of life while you are still breathing worth embracing.”The Maine Cancer Consortium says the progress is remarkable but it’s also introduced a number challenges to cancer survivors and their families. They say the physical, social, economic, spiritual and pyschological issues were often overlooked when survival rates were lower.”As a physician you think the day you tell someone well you don’t have to see me for a year is the happiest day of their life but for some people it’s a very scary moment.””There’s more recognition of the impact on somebody’s life just having cancer. Living after all of your treatments with cancer.””I think people who have had a diagnosis always have some fear lingering but how they deal with that can make all the difference in the world and I think generally that’s a very positive outlook now.”Five years ago an assessment was done in Maine to identify some of their needs.”A lot of times you need to find a new normal. Some people are not able to go back to work or maybe they are unable to do what they previously did so you have to develop a new routine, maybe a new outlook on life.”Financial strains are one of the most common problems.”Insurance issues are major and people with better insurance have more options for treatment.””To this day there are people not choosing treatments because they can’t afford to pay for them or they can’t afford to be out of work that long.”Officials say the transition to life after cancer can also be difficult for the person with it and everyone around them.”One person is being a caregiver and when the treatments are over maybe that person is no longer the caregiver. Do each of them give up their roles, the previous roles they have been involved with? How easily do they do that?””How do I reestablish contact with friends? How do I get back involved in my community.””It’s obviously a very positive adjustment and people embrace it but it is a transition.”There are lots of support services and people now looking at ways to address the needs of people living longer with cancer.Doctors say attitudes are changing and people talk more openly about cancer.In part 2 of this series 2 cancer survivors will share their stories.